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How Can You Beat the Rural Scammers?

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How can you avoid being a victim of scammers? Maren Hamre, NatWest’s community banker for Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, and Steve Thompson, Lombard’s solutions delivery manager, South West and Wales, answer some questions.

Has there been an increase in scams targeting farmers?

MH: “I work closely with trading standards in local councils and I had feedback from them saying that there is an increase with farmers. For people living in rural areas generally we have seen this, especially with telephone scams.”

ST: “Absolutely. The biggest scam at the moment is people phoning up and pretending to be from the bank. In a rural community they’re quite often on their own, without support. The person calling them will pretend that cash has been taken out fraudulently, and say they will give them the money back and ask for their bank details. If they get the details they will try and take the funds out.”

What’s the worst example you’ve heard?

MH: “A gentlemen lost £71,000. That was an investment scam. He clicked on a link on Facebook where he could buy bitcoins. It wasn’t a company that was authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. He didn’t do any research on them; he just transferred the money. At first he started seeing a return, his money quickly grew, and he eventually put in £71,000 – but when he tried to withdraw £20,000 to help his son put a deposit on his house, he had no further correspondence from them, and that’s when the penny dropped.”

Are scammers taking advantage of the Covid-19 crisis?

MH: “Some of the scams we’ve seen emerge this year include emails which appear to be from the World Health Organisation or the NHS with attachments that claim to offer coronavirus safety advice. But opening the attachment infects your device with malware that monitors your activity and captures your details. We’ve also seen deals that are too good to be true, for instance for facemasks, vaccines or access to testing kits. And criminals are sending texts and emails saying you’re entitled to a support payment or tax rebate due to coronavirus, or that you’ve been fined for leaving your house. It’s a scam – the Government, HMRC or any other genuine organisation would never contact you by text or email to discuss a payout or fine, so don’t click or respond.

What other kind of scams are out there?

MH: “You’ve got doorstep scams, rogue traders and postal scams – things like lottery prize draws. If you’re living isolated, that sort of correspondence might be the only sort you’re getting, so people can get quite attached to the scammers and they don’t realise they’re being scammed until it’s too late. Every year in the UK, we lose between £5bn and £8bn on scams.”

ST: “I’m also seeing email scams where again they might receive an email saying they’ve received a sum of money, or someone needs some money urgently.”

We all get emails like this – are you saying that they are particularly targeted at farmers?

ST: “They send out millions of these to anybody and hope that one or two might click on the link.”

MH: “There are also fake websites, where a farmer might be buying, say, a quad bike, which looks like a proper website, and the person wants you to pay directly, say via PayPal, but nothing turns up.”

How can you tell whether a website is fake?

MH: “It should have https in the website address. The ‘s’ stands for secure. And if you’re making a payment, there should be a padlock next to it.”

“If someone is pushing you to make a purchase now, when you’re on the phone, say that you want a while to think about it. Always allow yourself that extra time to double-check things.”

Does that mean it’s definitely not a scam?

MH: “There is no guarantee, unfortunately. If I’m dealing with a company I have never dealt with before, I would always be careful. I would always use a credit card or PayPal, which offers more protection than debit card.”

ST: “If there’s a number on the website, you can call it, or find out the telephone number by another means to verify it’s the right one before making the payment. You can look at the reviews, although these can also be fake, but not usually if it’s a big company. You can do several of these checks and if most of them come up fine then it’s probably OK.”

That may not necessarily cover phone scams, though?

ST: “No, but if the caller left a number you can type that into a search engine and see if it’s genuine or dodgy. You can hang up and call back, but they may give you a fake number, which even seems like a real one, with the sound of a call centre in the background.”

What are your rights in this type of situation?

ST: “I would usually refer to Trading Standards, which are the responsibility of your local council, who will have a trading officer.”

MH: “There is, for some purchases, a cooling-off period, which is around two weeks, but check the terms and conditions on the website before you buy anything. If someone is pushing you to make a purchase now when you are on the phone to them, say that you want a while to think about it, ask for the number and say you will call them back. Then discuss the issue with somebody else that you trust. Always allow yourself that extra time to double-check things. Never click on any links in text messages and emails; they could be fake.”

If someone does suspect that they might be a victim, what support does NatWest offer?

MH: “We advise our customers to contact us as soon as they spot anything. We can stop their card or disable their online banking, so the scammers can’t log on or try to reset it. It’s really important that we know straight away. We have numbers for people to call to report a fraud to the police, and numbers for local Trading Standards officers.”

NatWest’s Fraud Guide has further information on common scams and how to avoid them.

A version of this article first appeared on NatWest Business Hub.

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